What Popular TV/Film Trope Makes You Want to Never Watch Anything Again?

For writer Alex Epstein it boils down to this: “If I never see a movie or script or novel about growing up as a writer again, it will be too soon.”

We’ll let him explain. (Cuz he does it so well.)


by Alex Epstein (Complications Ensue Blog)

We watched THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, an odd Oscar contender about coming of age in the 90’s. It’s well made, with lots of lovely songs. Emma Watson is fetching and lovely as the wide-eyed toxic pixie dream girl. There are some nice walk-ons from Dylan McDermott and Paul Rudd. There’s some great tunes in there — I suspect a big chunk of the budget went to getting “Heroes” and “Come on Eileen.” (Which I remember hearing when I was growing up in the 80’s, but people are allowed to listen to old songs, after all.)

It’s an odd period piece because there isn’t much of a reason for it to be a period piece, except it’s got a closeted football player, and coming out in high school was much harder in the 1990’s than it is now. (In fact it reminded me a lot of my high school days.) But I suspect the main reason it’s set in the 1990’s is it’s based on a novel about growing up in the 1990’s, which is written by a novelist who grew up in the 90’s. And, probably, the filmmakes like David Bowie and didn’t want to have to put “Poker Face” on the soundtrack. I guess everyone has the right to write about their high schools days; otherwise they’ll be writing about some other generation’s high school days and getting it wrong. As if.

But I would like to say a word about scripts and novels about young men who Want to be Writers. This is a really annoying genre. They inevitably star some slightly passive kid with a hidden trauma (= “depth”) who is picked on by jocks for no apparent reason — he’s entirely innocent. He has a crush on a pretty girl. Eventually she falls for him, too. Even if, as in this case, he’s a freshman and she’s a senior. Because senior girls so often date freshman guys.

If I never see a movie or script or novel about growing up as a writer again, it will be too soon. This is just taking Write What You Know too literally. Come on. Use your imagination.

Please don’t try to make your character seem more compelling by informing us that he’s a writer. That only makes him more compelling to other writers. Yes, I love you guys, too, but most people don’t write, don’t have any aspiration to write, and rarely even read. Which is why we’re in showbiz, after all.

Instead, just give your character a unique point of view. That’s what makes a writer interesting, actually: having things to say that no one else could say. It makes you have to dig up actual insights for him or her to have. It’s probably more compelling if the character says those things in conversations, or even in voice over, than if he or she writes them down; seems more immediate that way.

Even better, have your main character express their unique point of view by doing things that other people don’t do. Then you have a really compelling character.

And you’re proving you were meant to be a writer all along. Which writing about a young writer does not really do.

NOTE FROM LB: Memorize this one, children. Engrave it on your writerly souls! In other words, Oh God, Alex, do I ever agree with you!

NOTE FROM MUNCHMAN: Speaking of PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, you can read the screenplay HERE.

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